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Olympians belong to all of us — some more so than others

  • Author: Beth Bragg
    | Sports
  • Updated: January 27, 2018
  • Published January 27, 2018

The Patterson siblings — Scott, left, and Caitlin — made the Olympic cross-country ski team this week, news that was celebrated in Alaska, Idaho and Vermont. (Photo courtesy of Josh Niva)

Ah, the Olympics. That once-every-two-years pinnacle of sports when American athletes who typically toil in relative anonymity suddenly belong, if not to the world, then to numerous schools, cities and states.

On Friday we received an email from a newspaper in Idaho. It was seeking photos of Caitlin and Scott Patterson, the Anchorage siblings who earlier that day were named to the Olympic cross-country ski team.

Scott was 13 and Caitlin was 15 when the Pattersons moved from Idaho to Anchorage 13 years ago. But in the world of the Olympics, they belong to Idaho, because they were born there, spent their early years there and learned to ski there.

They belong to Anchorage too, because they went to middle school and high school here, they honed their ski talents here, they won high school Skimeister crowns here.

And they belong to Vermont, where both Pattersons attended the University of Vermont and where Caitlin still lives. (Scott lives, works and trains in Anchorage.)

Every place wants an Olympian it can call its own. Remember 1994, when Tommy Moe touched off a tug-of-war between Palmer and Girdwood, which each claimed the two-time medalist as a hometown hero? So did Missoula, Montana, where Moe skied as a little boy.

The newspaper in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, includes snowboarder Rosie Mancari on its list of hometown athletes. She's on our list too.

Mancari was born and raised in Anchorage, graduated from South High, had an after-school job at Sea Galley and still calls Anchorage home.

But after she graduated she moved to Steamboat Springs to train with a snowboarding club there.

So Mancari is an Olympian with two hometowns. And since this is an Olympic year and everyone wants to identify with an Olympian, a third or fourth hometown may emerge between now and the Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 9.

The same day we heard from the Idaho newspaper, we received emails from UAF and the Alaska Winter Stars.

Both heralded the Olympic selection of the same skier — Tyler Kornfield, whose affiliations include the Winter Stars, where he developed as a young skier; Service High, where he was one of the state's best high school skiers; UAF, where he skied collegiately; and the Alaska Pacific University Nordic Ski Center, where he currently trains.

Kornfield's ties to various clubs, schools and cities is typical. The email from UAF mentioned another alum-turned-Olympian — Logan Hanneman. Hanneman belongs to Fairbanks, where he skied for the Fairbanks Alaska Ski Team (FAST), Lathrop High and UAF. And he belongs to Anchorage, because after college he moved south to train with APU.

Hanneman may be a man with two cities, but Keegan Messing is a man with two countries.

He'll wear red apparel decorated with maple leafs as a member of Team Canada in Pyeongchang. But many of the fans cheering him will wave flags with eight stars of gold on a field of blue.

The first Alaska man to qualify for the Olympics in figure skating, Messing has lived in Girdwood his whole life. But his mother was born in Canada, and a few years ago Messing capitalized on his dual citizenship to change his skating affiliation from the United States to Canada.

You may note that we called Messing the first male figure skater from Alaska to compete at the Olympics. That's because Ashley Wagner competed in women's singles at the 2014 Winter Olympics — and though her connections to Alaska now are tenuous, Wagner grew up in Eagle River.

Four years ago, our sports department assigned Wagner to what we call Team Asterisk. She wasn't an Alaskan, but she had enough of an Alaska connection to warrant our attention.

Wagner became a figure skater here and was a member of the Anchorage Figure Skating Club when she won the Pacific Coast sectional championship in 2005. Her military family moved to the Lower 48 after that, but her Alaska roots — and our desire for Olympians to call our own — were strong enough for us to include her in our coverage of the 2014 Olympics.

With a record 14 Alaskans headed to Pyeongchang, you'd think that's plenty for a state with less than 1 million people.

But no. We'll have another Team Asterisk for 2018, one that so far includes two former UAA hockey players (Mat Robinson of Team Canada and Luka Vidmar of Team Slovenia) and Casey Wright, a current UAA skier who made Australia's cross-country team.

If Wright winds up staying in Anchorage after college, as so many UAA skiers do, she'll lose the asterisk and be added to our list of Alaska Olympians. And yet she will be an Australia Olympian forever.

It all comes down to this: There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to staking a claim to an Olympian. That saying about it taking a village to raise a child? When it comes to world-class athletes, sometimes it takes several villages.

This column is the opinion of sports editor Beth Bragg. Reach her at

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